Some days, it was too heavy.
Each of the scars burned like a brand; the severed nerves alight with the searing sensation of pain. Pure, raw pain. Even the ones that hadn't been afflicted with flames still burned with the feeling of it.
It was a struggle to heave his aching self out of the bed. The sheets were so utterly soft and the temptation to bury himself into them was near insurmountable. Yet, the faint clattering that echoed from the kitchen was too much of a draw.
Jon rocked onto his feet, the ritual of biting back the gasp that standing brought feeling just a bit more raw than every other day.
Slowly, he dragged leaden feet across the floor boards.
Each one squeaked in a cacophony that should have– would have any other day– driven him to near insanity. He couldn't dredge up enough emotion to care.
The hallway also felt far longer than it had any right to be– aside from the twisting, aching corridors of the Spiral– and he felt near winded as the kitchen came into view.
Martin's back was turned, but under the weight of Jon's gaze, he twisted back cheerfully.
"Morning, love." He chirped, his blue eyes soft and clear in the morning light, and his curls fluffed in the awkward way they always got after a long night of cotton sheets and dry air.
"Morning." Jon forced out. "It– what's for breakfast?"
He couldn't bring himself to stagger the extra step, either physically or emotionally, to be enthusiastic about the food.
Not when it was as bland as all the food day in and day out was; not when he was already filled with the aching, full sensation that had planted itself firmly in his core.
"Oatmeal." Martin chuckled, waving the spoon through the air in a flippant motion. "I'm pretty sure it's the only thing Daisy kept stocked here. Not sure what that says about her tastes."
Another day, Jon would've made a snippy comment about the ease of cooking and the relative benefits of oats as a nutritional source.
Instead, he simply collapsed– in his thoughts, he labeled it as a controlled lazing, but in all truth it was a collapse– into the chair.
He stared blankly at the wall while Martin puttered around the kitchen, the sound of utensils clanging and his soft admonishments to the tea kettle forming a low background static.
"Jon?" Martin's voice broke through his reverie of the wallpaper. "Where'd you go, love? That looked like a thousand yard stare and a half."
Jon dragged his gaze upward.
Martin's concerned face hovered over him, not tensed, but still undeniably awkward. In one hand, he held a completed bowl of oatmeal that was drizzled with the faintest bits of watered down honey and framed by Daisy's utilitarian cookware, and in other another identical bowl, sans the honey.
"Right, yes. Thank you." Jon muttered.
Stiffly, he grasped the bowl and drew it into his lap, half heartedly poking it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Martin sit down in the adjacent chair– it had been quite a shock that Daisy had even owned more than one– and begin to spoon up his own breakfast.
"How was your night?" Martin asked, his voice slightly muffled by the thick food. "You seem a bit tired."
"It was–" Jon grasped at an explanation that wasn't that he couldn't recall any of the previous day. "It was alright, bit chilly."
"Really? It seemed a bit stuffy to me."
Jon jerked a shoulder up in a twitchy motion he hoped conveyed a shrug. The only warmth he'd felt recently had been the searing ache of the scars; the rest of his body had been frozen solid for what felt as it were years.
"Well, I'll make sure you get more of the blankets tonight." Martin said, a small smile tugging on the edges of his lips. "Wouldn't want you to catch a chill."
Jon poked the spoon back into the oatmeal, watching with dull fascination as it immediately dripped back off.
"Jon? Are you– do you feel alright, love?"
Jon dredged up what felt like a pitiful imitation of a smile. "Just tired."
Martin's eyebrows creased inward just a bit further. "Are you sure? I've, well, I've seen you sleep deprived fairly often, and I don't remember you seeming this poorly."
"I'm just still adjusting."
"Well, I suppose if you say so." Martin nibbled a bite of his oatmeal. "If you are feeling a bit ill, it would make total sense, though. I mean– you've been through quite a bit. Especially in the past few years."
"I–" Jon ignored the blanks in memories he should remember. "It might have taken a bit of a toll."
Martin nodded, and his eyes softened into pale lakes. "If you need anything– well, anything we have. Just let me know, okay?"
Martin gave him back another soft, painstakingly hesitant smile.
They ate in near silence for the rest of the meal, the quiet interspersed only with the dampened sound of flora and fauna outside and the clicking of cutlery.
"I'll take that if you're done, love."
Suddenly, Martin was in front of him, his own bowl held– now empty– in one hand and the other reaching for Jon's considerably fuller portion.
"I can get it."
"You don't have to." Martin carefully scooped up the plate. "You look exhausted, Jon. Just let me grab this one."
Jon didn't have the strength for his typical protests. Instead, he watched with dull eyes as Martin carried the dishes to the sink and deposited them there. The low thrum of the sink echoed as Martin filled the sticky center of his own bowl with hot water to let it soak, and Jon lost a handful of seconds.
It was Martin again– as if there was anyone else– who shattered the thick fog clouding his thoughts.
"Jon." His voice was unusually serious, and although the blue of his eyes was still soft, it was interlaid with a shine that hardened them. "I know something isn't right, love. Please, talk to me. I–"
He broke off, the shimmer in his eyes cracking just the tiniest bit. "I don't like seeing you like this."
Jon blinked, his eyelids as heavy as weights. "Just tired. I didn't– couldn't sleep."
"This isn't just sleep deprivation, Jon. I've seen you go days without sleep and never seem this ill before."
Jon fought the rising urge to snap– not that any words would come to fruition with his chest as muddied with emotion as it was.
"I'm just tired. Very– tired."
"You said, but. But, still, Jon. Did something happen I don't know about?"
An abrupt huff of breath punched its way out of Jon's chest. "I get like this, sometimes."
"Like what, love?" Martin was suddenly attentive beyond his inherent sympathy, the concern writing itself over his pale features. "Listless? Do you– is it a statement thing?"
Jon forced himself to shake his head, ignoring the twinge in the scar across his trachea and the way the world swirled with the motion.
"Is it because of how little you eat?"
"What?" Jon dragged his gaze to Martin, his mouth even making the effort to twist with irritation. "I eat fine."
"Yes, sure, love." Martin said placatingly. "Have you had enough water today?"
Abruptly, the tide of fury broke through the glass surrounding his thoughts.
"Yes. I have." Jon snapped. "And before you ask, I've used the restroom as well, and I've about had it with questions, I–"
The sudden motion triggered a sharp lance of pain, the sting knocking the wind out of him.
He gasped harshly before he could bite back on it.
"Jon!" Martin was there instantly, hovering and ghosting his fingers across his skin as if he could find a hidden wound. "Where does it hurt?"
"It's fine. S'fine." He mumbled. "It's– right."
"It's not." Martin said sharply. "You're– you're obviously hurting."
Jon swallowed. "Not more than usual."
Martin's face creased in concern. "I know you've got chronic pain, but, love, this seems bad. Worse than usual."
"S'mental. It hurts there. Foggy." Jon finally forced the words across a tacky tongue, regretting it almost immediately as Martin drew in a sharp breath.
"Did you hit your head, love?" He asked slowly.
"No. Not that." Jon mumbled.
Martin nodded. "And the fog, is it hard to think or just sad?"
"Hard to– hard to think."
Martin nodded again, a pensive expression crossing his face.
"Jon, love?" He said softly. "Have you ever heard of dissociation?"
Jon fought against the swarm of memories of grief counselors after his parents death. They hadn't been wanted– or asked for– but they had shown up to his school in droves after the accident and asked a novel's worth of invasive questions; ones that his younger self hadn't comprehended, and had infuriated his grandmother.
That word had stood out in stark contrast as the only one that made even a hint of sense to his tiny, fractured mind.
"I've heard– people have mentioned it."
Martin dipped his head in another nod. "Good, good, love. Has it been this severe before?"
"S'fine." He mumbled.
Martin looked pained. "Jon, can you tell me another time you've felt like this? To this degree, I mean?"
Another painful deluge of memories poured over him. The edges that should have been sharp as razors instead dulled and aching. Wiggling, white bodies, ones that bloated instead of disintegrated, and panicked screams, and emergency services that prodded and examined as if he were the carcass rather than parasites.
"After the worms."
"Oh, that's–" Martin's eyes filled with sadness. "Here, love. Is there anything that helps?"
"What if– can I name some things, darling? You can tell me if you don't like them, or if you think it's stupid."
Jon forced his head to fall forward into a nod.
"Right, thank you." Martin smiled, even though it was shaky around the edges. "How about a cold cloth?"
Jon felt his lips twitch into a frown. "No."
The very idea of it felt like nights traversing sodden, freezing tunnels.
"That's okay. How about a shower, or a bath? I– I can help you if you need it, or if you even think it'll be helpful."
"No. Not– not that one."
Martin nodded gently. "Oh, how about a cup of tea? Not caffeine, but just something soothing? And warm."
Jon flinched for a second, but hidden under that layer of grief laid an undercurrent of something– not quite comfort, but an acquaintance to it– that brought a small flicker of warmth past the glass enclosing him.
"That." He whispered.
Martin smiled again, just the tiniest bit more securely. "Alright, love. Can I trust you to stay here while I make it? I don't– I'd rather not drag you over to the counter with me, given how much you seem to be hurting today, but I'd like to know that you're safe."
Jon nodded, as if his form wasn't half way to being rooted into the stiff chair backing.
"Thank you, darling." Martin rose to his feet, his form stretching almost like a cartoon through Jon's distorted vision. "I'll keep talking, alright? So that you won't feel alone."
Jon nodded again.
Martin dipped his head in return, and padded into the kitchen, starting up a steam of steady chatter as he did so.
The words phased in and out through the static, but Jon caught faint snatches of information about the local grocer, and the abundance of dandelions in the nearby fields, and a few disapproving remarks about the low quality of tea Daisy had kept stock.
If he had been any more aware, he'd have made a quip about the fact that Daisy had preferred coffee, especially in comparison to the soggy, herbal blends Martin adored.
"Right, here, love."
Jon startled harshly; the response muted, but no less painful as Martin instantly stuttered out an apology.
"Oh, Jon. I'm so sorry, I wasn't thinking. Here– let me."
Gently, Martin pried the steaming hot cup out of his clenched fingers and held it in his own. "I'll give it back in just a tick, I promise. I just don't want you to hurt myself."
Jon twitched involuntarily at the prospect of adding to the low simmer of pain under his skin.
He forced out the breath that had caught in his lungs– repeating the action when once wasn't enough– and after a second of silence, reached back out for the cup.
Martin gently placed it into his stiff fingers. "Careful, it's still hot."
Jon let out a low hum, and drew in a sip.
The wash of warm liquid did what the oatmeal had failed to; it thinned the thick pane of glass between himself and the rest of the world.
The soft, herbal taste of it washed easily over his mouth– flavourful without being cloying– and the warmth was soothing and just on the wrong side of too hot in the same way as he'd always gulped it down in the Archives when he'd been in a race against his own thirst and dwindling productively.
"Thank you, Martin." He murmured when the mug was half way emptied.
"Oh, of course." Martin said, his eyes as soft as the silky, honey thickened tea. "Did it help?"
"Yes." Jon nodded, the motion loosened up just a fraction. "It seems to have a bit."
"I'm glad." Martin murmured, then paused. "Have you ever experienced that before? You mentioned a few times you might've, but I wasn't quite sure."
Jon sighed. "Yes, I have. It's not a frequent occurrence."
"You mentioned the worms?"
Jon felt the glass frost over for a sharp second, before he controlled the urge to allow it to thicken again. "Yes, it was particularly bad for a while then."
Martin nodded slowly. "Was that the first–"
He let the sentence hang in the air, gesturing with one hand in a vague arc.
"Oh, right. I– I'm sorry." Martin stammered.
Jon let out another gust of breath. "I don't particularly like discussing anything that's lead to it."
"Right, right, of course."
Jon took another sip of the tea, letting it soak into his tongue and reveling in the tiny bits of comfort in it.
"Today's appears to be from some– increased pain. As well as possibly some nightmares. I don't– I can't always recall."
Martin nodded again, letting the answer rest without prying. "I'm glad the tea helps it feel better, even if it's just a tiny bit."
Jon forced the edges of his lips to turn upward. "Yes, I– I quite appreciate it."
"I'll make better too, once we get back to the grocers and buy some real tea."
A warm– pleasantly fuzzy rather than artificially numbed– memory rose up through Jon's thoughts of intricate blends and careful measurements in a cramped, breakroom kitchen that had always amounted to four cups of soft, enjoyably floral, warmth.
"I don't doubt that."
Martin smiled softly. "We can go on a day that you're a bit steadier on your feet, and I'll make something much better than this. I think I saw some sweet blends there last week."
"Tell me about them?" Jon asked, then paused at the hesitance that rose up on Martin's face. "Just– listening to you talking helps a bit."
Martin blushed a soft, pale pink, but nevertheless still began a detailed explanation of each blend and their relative sweetness, spice, and quality of the leaves based on the inherent flavour of the plant.
Jon let the words wash over him; the tea like a balm over the burning brands of his scars and the sweetness dripping from the words like a spring shower across the glass rather than a pounding hurricane, and slowly the fog– the dissociation– faded away into a soft frame rather than a barrier.
One that he could see the rays of Martin' smile through, but that didn't leave the window compelely ajar.